Last month, I made a no-cook, fresh turmeric and ginger pickle. The turmeric I’d brought home from the shop had given me a surprise once I started to peel it, as the flesh revealed wasn’t bright yellow, but a creamy off-white. At this point I didn’t even know that such a thing as white turmeric existed, and although it made a tasty pickle, I wanted to try making something with the golden coloured stuff, reputedly more subtle in flavour and, in my mind, far more joyous in colour. Well, as can often be the case in life, one person’s disappointment turns into another’s gain: family were visiting a friend from a far away land, and she requested that they bring her some saffron. What appeared with their arrival was a large bag of mud-crusted fresh turmeric. That parcel got passed, and was very gladly received into my fridge (thanks again, J.)
The obvious choice for me was to try and recreate something of the flavour of an oily, gently spiced turmeric pickle we’d eaten in an Indian restaurant some weeks ago. Although I’ve got in to general preserve making over the past couple of years, I don’t really have any experience of making Indian pickles – my mother never made them, so I don’t have any go-to, tried and trusted recipes to fall back on. I do, however, have enough experience of eating them, so I know how I like them to taste. After some research online, I found out that raw mango pickles are traditionally made by chopping the fruit, before salting and/or marinating, then leaving out in the sun for a few days. Although during the past couple of weeks the sun has been browning my legs as if I’m a tasty chicken drumstick in a tandoor, it nevertheless cannot be relied upon to work its magic on something as precious as a pickle. I decided that I’d have to rely instead on a hob and a saucepan. The second thing that I learned was that the kind of pickle that I had in mind often gets a certain amount of its characteristic aroma from mustard oil. This presents a bit of a problem: although mustard oil is found for sale in shops around my way, EU legislation has it marked as ‘for external use only’. Apparently, the powers that be deem it unsafe for consumption because it contains high amounts of erucic acid, which could be harmful. It seems that the evidence used to make that conclusion is contested, but I’m no health professional, so I’m not about to publicly promote the use of mustard oil in culinary goods. Mustard oil, unsurprisingly, has a pungent mustardy heat, which can be mellowed by heating the oil and then cooling slightly before use, which burns off some of its intensity and leaves behind a distinct, but more pleasant flavour. If the legislation concerns you, then perhaps heating rapeseed oil with a handful of mustard seeds presents a decent enough solution, a tasty compromise.
So, research done, no recipe found which was quite suitable, I decided to work on instinct and wing it. The result may not be a traditional recipe, but the flavours are authentic enough for me!
200g sugar (I used half Demerara, half golden caster)
50ml cider vinegar
100g fresh turmeric, peeled
About 600g raw mangoes (weight with stones, about 5-6 mangoes)
Zest and juice of 2 limes
30g ginger, finely grated
8 cardamom pods, husks discarded and seeds crushed
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. nigella seeds
2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. crushed rock salt
About 50ml rapeseed oil (and about 2 tbsp. extra mustard seeds, if liked)
Begin by roughly chopping the mangoes, leaving the skin on. Slice the turmeric into thin batons.
Over a medium heat, dissolve the sugar with the vinegar. Once dissolved, add the mango and turmeric, bring just to a boil, then add the spices, salt, and lime zest and juice, and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes, until the mango has begun to soften (and your kitchen smells amazing.)
Meanwhile, pour the oil into a frying pan, throw in the mustard seeds, and heat over a medium heat until the mustard seeds start to sizzle. Remove from the seat as soon as this happens, then allow to cool a little before straining to remove the seeds. Obviously, take care – hot oil can be dangerous!
Spoon your pickle into sterilised jars (this recipe made me two medium sized jars), pressing it down as you go to avoid large air bubbles, then pour over the still warm oil (enough to cover the pickle.) Pop on the lids, then allow to cool before storing in the fridge.